June 10, 2014 | By

How to Rock the E-Rate Process in 6 Steps

Because education is one of Jive’s top priorities, we’ve taken a keen interest in the E-Rate process and its benefits. We know schools rely on technology to prepare their students for the future. But that technology doesn’t come cheap, and school budgets are strained as it is without adding upgrade costs.

To defray these costs, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and created the E-Rate Program. E-Rate funds (2.3 billion dollars!) provide a range of discounts (usually between 20% and 90%) intended to make Internet and telecommunications technology more affordable for US schools and libraries.

But the E-Rate process can be overwhelming if you’re just getting into it. Here’s a quick breakdown of the steps:

  1. Draft a technology plan. This is where you get the chance to explain how new information or telecommunications technology will help your organization to reach goals or improve services.
  2. Launch the bidding process. At this point, submit FCC Form 470 to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), as well as issue a Request for Proposal (RFP). This initiates the formal process of requesting and receiving bids from telecommunications service providers. The bidding process must run for at least 28 days after Form 470 is posted to the USAC website. Evaluate the bids you receive and pick a service provider that is E-Rate eligible.
  3. Apply for funding. After the required 28 days, file FCC Form 471 to apply for the E-Rate discount for the specific service you’ve selected.
  4. Answer application review questions. USAC reviews the information in your application during the Program Integrity Assurance (PIA) stage and may request additional information from you. You typically have 15 days to respond, so don’t waste time responding to these!
  5. Start services. With your application approved and your Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL) in hand, you can move forward with your technology plan and receive the selected services from your provider. When your services have started, file an FCC Form 486.
  6. Submit service invoice. Once USAC has processed your Form 486, create an invoice (FCC Form 472) cataloging the E-Rate-eligible service charges you’ve received.

As you wade through the E-Rate process, here are a few easy tips to help you stay afloat:

  • Watch your deadlines. E-Rate applications are only accepted during a specific filing window, so pay strict attention to deadlines and be prompt when filing forms, selecting bids, and responding to PIA questions.
  • File early. Give yourself some breathing space between deadlines.
  • Save any and all E-Rate documentation. Hang on to all your E-Rate documents in case you’re audited for compliance.
  • File online. This can cut down on form-processing times, as well as reduce form errors.

Another factor to consider when you apply to E-Rate: discounts are awarded based on a tiered priority system. Priority One services (which include hosted VoIP services like Jive) almost always receive funding, and most schools can qualify for them. On-premise services get slapped with a Priority Two status, which rarely receive funding.

So if your school or library phone system needs an upgrade, check out Jive’s powerful, enterprise-grade service. Jive is a leading national provider of Priority One E-Rate-eligible telecommunications services with an array of productivity-enhancing features for the education market. Find out about new solutions coming your way by following our LinkedIn updates or our Twitter @getjive feed.

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